July 14, 2015

The New York Times

When New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet announced last month that the newspaper would create a beat dedicated to chronicling the “psychology, rituals, costs and contradictions” of the ultra-wealthy, reactions from readers were mixed:

The beat also grabbed headlines because of the reporter who created it, Alessandra Stanley. A TV critic for The New York Times, Stanley has had some public stumbles, most recently when she wrote a provocative article about television producer Shonda Rhimes.

Stanley offered a glimpse at how she views the beat on Times Insider Monday, offering a rebuttal to critics who suggested that the beat is a voyeuristic look at the lives of the rich — so-called “wealth porn.”

The intent here isn’t to chronicle the lifestyles of the rich and famous – that always entertaining topic is already widely covered. Billionaires create their own ecospheres for good as well as ill, but they aren’t really answerable to anyone except themselves. This election cycle seems like a particularly a good moment to take a more anthropological look at the rituals, costs and contradictions of this new Gilded Age.

She goes on to say that she will cover the rich as if she were planning to immerse herself in a foreign assignment. Although Stanley won’t indulge in some of the more glamorous aspects of the wealthy lifestyle — she notes that the Times won’t pay for Uber helicopter rides — Stanley does note that the beat is an entry point for a lifestyle she calls “mysterious and fascinating.”

People, including billionaires, keep talking the problem of income inequality. I’m interested in the motivations and methods of those growing few who hold such a disproportionate hold on the world’s wealth and direction.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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